Thursday, May 5, 2011

Fifty years ago today, I was...

...playing with a toy shovel, heaping beach sand into a small plastic bucket. That's what a boy of (almost) four years old does when he's vacationing in Florida with his family.

My father kept interrupting my shoveling that day, repeatedly calling my attention to the ocean and the eastern sky. I seem to recall two large ships visible near the horizon. I have a very clear memory of a U.S. Navy B-17 making several low-altitude passes just offshore.

What I remember most, though, is my dad hoisting me up and pointing excitedly at a wispy trail of smoke arcing over the Atlantic to our southeast. Leading that trail was a bright orange speck.

On May 5, 1961, Alan B. Shepard became the first American in space. I was there -- albeit at a tender age and from a distance of 50 miles -- to see that Mercury-Redstone 3 propel Freedom 7 into history, and I remember.